July 15, 2003
ROYAL ST. GEORGE'S, ENGLAND
STEWART McDOUGALL: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Ernie Els, the defending champion of the Open Championship. Ernie, you've just come off a very good win at Loch Lomond in a course that's entirely different than Sandwich here. How do you see that going for you this week?
ERNIE ELS: It's totally different. I mean I played 9 holes yesterday evening, and I played 18 today and it's totally different, but it's nice. I enjoy links golf. I've always enjoyed it. And I think the win helped my confidence coming into this. I'm hitting the ball well. I'm putting quite nicely at the moment. Obviously around the greens it's totally different than last week, but I hit some good shots around the greens, and just getting a good feel of the place. I played here in '93 and it was very similar back then. We had a different breeze blowing in '93, I remember. But the conditions feel quite similar to back then. So I've got a nice feel for the golf course. So I'm looking forward to that.
Q. You seem to be maintaining your form very well this season. Is this down to a mental attitude, rather than -- or aptitude, rather than a physical application?
ERNIE ELS: I think it's everything. I think technically my swing feels good now, and my feel for the game has kind of come back a little bit again. I had a nice break after the Buick Classic in New York and spent some nice time off with the family. And I think I needed that. And I just felt refreshed when I started playing again last week.
Q. The Scottish Open didn't take too much out of you?
ERNIE ELS: No.
Q. Didn't look like it.
ERNIE ELS: No. As I say, I had two weeks off. So I played -- last week I played nicely. And if you've seen my schedule, I play around the world, so it shouldn't be a problem stamina-wise.
Q. Have you played too much, going through New York, you sounded like you needed a break?
ERNIE ELS: Just the way I was playing, I felt like I was playing better than I was scoring for a while there, especially in the U.S. It kind of started at Muirfield. I felt I really played well at Muirfield Village, and didn't get anything out of the game. And didn't play all that great at the U.S. Open, but still I wasn't playing all that badly, and same at Westchester. So I guess a break away from it just to clear the mind and clear the air helped me. So I feel like I want to play again.
Q. Is this the best you've ever felt coming into an Open?
ERNIE ELS: Yes and no. I finished -- I won Loch Lomond in 2000, and I came into the Open a week after. I had a good Open. But Tiger played some different golf that week. I've brought form and -- I'm feeling good.
Q. It was only a year ago Tiger was chasing the Grand Slam here or at Muirfield. Can you speak to the difference a year has made in him, you and the field?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's nice for once that he hasn't got a Grand Slam in five years -- a Grand Slam tournament. But saying that, I don't think he's changed much. I think he's still playing at a very high level. I just think he probably hasn't put everything together at the majors. And that's not saying too much, either. So he's playing well. I think a lot of other players have broken through, have broken the ice in their own minds and games. I'm talking about guys like Mike Weir who is a great player, who broke through this year, and Jim Furyk, also. I think these kind of players have been around a long time and they've knocked on the door. They got the success that they needed.
Myself, same thing, I'm just trying to get better as a player, and I think I'm getting there. I think I'm -- since last year I think I've won 6, 7 times. And that's not too bad. I think other players are getting better, but Tiger is still there.
Q. Are there any complications or down sides to being the defending champion or is it all just extra confidence? Are there any complications involved in that?
ERNIE ELS: No, not at all. I don't think you get extra confidence being the defending champion. It's been a year since I've won this tournament. To be honest with you, I haven't really felt anything different this week. I know that players have won back-to-back Open Championships before, so there's no extra pressure there for me to get into any kind of record book or something like that. So I just want to come in, enjoy my Open. I enjoy the golf course. I want to stay focused, playing golf this week, and the other stuff will probably take care of itself. I've got no extra pressure.
Q. You talked about your comfort zone and knowing your way around this course. Could you talk about what the learning curve was and maybe some things you had to learn the hard way the first time here? And secondly, a lot of people talk about how quirky this course is, and yet the last time the Open was here the leaderboard was full of top players. Is there something about the quirkiness in this course that brings out the best? It seems to have a history of separating out the best players.
ERNIE ELS: It's tough to say. You get some majors where the best players in the world have a good tournament, and that happened here in '93. Norman, Faldo, Price, Pavin, you name it, they were all on the leaderboard. And really I think that was one of the best Opens ever. Norman shooting 64 to win. The golf course -- I did have a good learning experience in '93. I definitely did not coming here to try to win that championship, I was just trying to make enough money and learn, and that's what I did that year. I had a very good tournament. And I think it will help you. I think guys who have played here before definitely have a bit of an advantage because the conditions we have at the moment are not the wind direction that normally blows here. It comes from a totally opposite way. If that starts happening, I think experience will help around here. It is a golf course unlike any of the other links golf courses. You have a lot more blind shots from the tee, where you don't really see, where you have to go. So you have to pick a line and go for it.
The fairways are -- at times you think you're playing on the moon. There's nothing flat on this golf course, everything bounces away. So you've just got to take the rough with the smooth here this week. You've got to pick a line and go with it, and hope for the best. It's true links golf this week.
Q. You mentioned there's a different wind. How many different incarnations can you expect over the course of a week on this golf course, how often will the wind change?
ERNIE ELS: It's tough to say, obviously. But they've got what they call a heat wave over here, so when that happens it doesn't really blow much. The golf course is as firm as I've ever seen any links golf course, but it's in great shape, the greens are great. But I expect the traditional wind to blow, that's the way that it blows here. I've spoken to the locals here. So if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, we'll just take each day as it comes. You can't do anything about the weather.
Q. I can't think of a time where we've had the best two players in the world coming into a major, with Tiger going wire to wire at the Western, and you going wire to wire at Loch Lomond. The public has been looking for a major Sunday showdown since January. Do you think this might be the week?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I think Tiger -- he's playing really well. And I think from all the press he's been getting, not winning a major in a year, which I think is ridiculous, but anyway I think he's going to try to prove something and have a good week. I'm looking for a good week. I have been playing well. So hopefully it happens, who knows. I really feel good about this week. So we'll just wait and see. You can't -- I don't want to think about Sunday on Thursday. I want to think about Thursday on Thursday.
Q. Don't forget Wednesday.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I just want to go out there and play each hole the way it should be played and add it up at the end of the week.
Q. You were playing obviously really well for an extended stretch and then hurt your hand, kind of went down for a little while. After last week, do you feel as comfortable about the game now as you did maybe 3, 4, 5 months ago?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. I'm feeling physically as good as I've ever been. My game, as I say, is feeling good. I made some nice putts last week at Loch Lomond, so that was a good sign. And it was a good sign to win from day one, to be in the lead from day one, to sleep with the pressure of leading the golf tournament and trying to go with that. I haven't done that since February or March. So that was a nice accomplishment. And then my rhythm has come back nicely. My short game, as I say, is good. And my long game is good. There's no reason why I shouldn't be playing well now. That's what I feel like.
Q. You've played most of the courses on the Open roster. Where do you rank St. George's in amongst them?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think if the weather gets bad, this might be the toughest one of the lot, because of the severeness of the fairways. So severe the ball -- you don't get a straight bounce. To hit fairways here in some places it's impossible. I don't know how we're going to hit the 18th fairway, you're not going to do it. Even on 17, the ball just runs to the sides. If we get bad weather, this might be the toughest one of the lot. I like it, I think this is the way links golf should be played. I'd like to see an aerial photograph of this place, it must look awesome, full of mounds and lumps and stuff.
Q. Do you look back at '93 as an opportunity missed because of inner experience? Did you ever feel like there were shots that you left out there? And the other thing is, how did it feel to have to bring the jug back?
ERNIE ELS: No, '93, as I said to you before, I wasn't like these 23 years old that come out nowadays. I was really having a good time in those days and I wanted to have a good week. I had a good week the year before in '92, when I finished fifth, so I wanted to finish that way. I remember I was hitting the ball very well that week, especially with the driver. I hit driver almost on every hole that year in those days. And I really played -- I thought I played really well. I probably got everything out of my rounds each day. I wasn't too accurate either, in those days. But I had a great week, I was just learning. And what was your second -- the jug? I had it around the world with me, also. I took it all the way around the world. I went to Australia with it, South Africa, the States, all over the place. So I had a good time with it.
Q. Is it possible to put into words the difference between the Ernie Els who came off the 13th, at Augusta National at 2002, and the Ernie Els who won that playoff at Muirfield last year? Does that make you better with going head-to-head with Tiger on the last day of a major?
ERNIE ELS: That's a good question. I think when I made that big number on 13, and -- I was trying too hard to make things happen. I was falling behind a little bit. And I went out of my normal routine and made a huge number there. And last year I was better mentally, but still I wanted it so badly last year. And not winning a major for almost five years, I think it was, it started building in me. And when I had the chance I was really -- I was quite tense last year. So I made those mistakes, but I prevailed in the end. And obviously it gave me a hell of a boost.
Q. Does it make you mentally stronger?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think at the end of the day you keep working on what you're working on. I believe what I'm working on is the right thing. And I think my record speaks for itself since then, so, yeah, I guess it makes you a little better.
Q. I was watching Greg Norman a little earlier on, and he's taken Adam Scott and given him a few pointers. Have you taken any of the young South Africans under your wing?
ERNIE ELS: No, I had a money game with Price, Vijay and Charles Howell -- I wasn't thinking about helping anyone out. We're going to play tomorrow afternoon.
Q. How about the money?
ERNIE ELS: I lost 40 dollars.
Q. Pricey, huh?
ERNIE ELS: To Vijay and Charles. But if I made that putt, I could have made some money, but I missed that putt.
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